Is there anybody in TrumpWorld that understands the current zeitgeist?
By Kent R. Kroeger (September 21, 2018)
President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh instead of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the U.S. Supreme Court will go down as one of the biggest strategic mistakes of the Trump presidency (…there will be so many to choose from, but his antagonizing China thereby forcing China and Russia into a stronger military alliance will probably be his biggest error).
By failing to understand the legitimate grievances addressed by the #MeToo movement, Trump missed the perfect opportunity to offer a definitive response to the #MeToo movement’s excesses through the nomination of a strong, charismatic Republican woman to the Supreme Court. For a party possessing few nationally prominent women capable of attracting Trump’s vote base— UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst are the only two names that come to my mind —how could Trump’s White House advisers not understand the importance of this Supreme Court nomination decision.
Instead, in an unforced error, Trump nominated an establishment Republican to the Supreme Court, a Bush family friend nonetheless, and the Trump administration will not have another chance to nominate a conservative jurist once the 2018 midterms put the Democrats back in control of the U.S. Senate.
But give Trump credit, his cluelessness keeps his optimism strong.
“Brett Kavanaugh — and I’m not saying anything about anybody else — but I want to tell you that Brett Kavanaugh is one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting,” President Donald Trump said at a Las Vegas rally on Thursday. “A great intellect, a great gentleman, an impeccable reputation, went to Yale Law School, top student, so we have to let it play out, but I want to tell you, he is a fine, fine person.”
In his uncharacteristically terse and measured statement about his embattled Supreme Court nominee, Trump exposed his deep bias that may have sabotaged his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
What does ‘(He) went to Yale Law School, top student’ have to do with the sexual assault accusation recently hurled at Kavanaugh by someone he knew in high school?
Yale’s top law students are capable of sexual assault too. Education and talent offer no information on whether or not someone is capable of committing a sexual assault crime.
When Trump speaks, he reveals himself. And by focusing on Kavanaugh’s resume, Trump revealed how disconnected he is from the controversy that will likely end this Supreme Court nominee’s candidacy and kill any chance Trump places another conservative jurist on the Court before the end of his first presidential term.
It is not surprising Trump relies mostly on alma mater and superficial factors when he makes major personnel decisions. Trump, like most senior personnel managers in the private and public sector, is a flawed judge of character and talent.
Nonetheless, Trump has advisers who collectively should have known better than offering Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court appointment given the superior candidates available at the time.
Most frustrating for social conservatives is that the ideal Supreme Court nominee under the current #MeToo zeitgeist was available. Judge Barrett, 46, a former Notre Dame professor and currently a U.S. Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, was on Trump’s final four list of Supreme Court nominees to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
A staunch constitutional originalist in the vein of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Judge Barrett was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the 7th Circuit after a contentious grilling from Democratic Senators Al Franken and Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
When Senator Feinstein’s said to Barrett during the confirmation hearing last year that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” she signaled to the pro-choice Left that Barrett cannot be “trusted” to defend Roe v. Wade. Senator Feinstein’s ‘dogma’ obloquy was reminiscent of the religious bigotry faced by New York Governor Al Smith and President John F. Kennedy, both Catholics, when they ran for office. Up until last week’s 11th-hour stunt to derail the Kavanaugh nomination, Feinstein’s unsubtle smear of Judge Barrett’s faith was the low water mark in her Senate career.
Knowing how Judge Barrett triggers the worst in Senate Democrats, was there a better nominee for the Supreme Court for the #MeToo era? No, according to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who said she was preferable, especially to Kavanaugh, as she is “more solid in terms of what originalists are hoping for.” Kavanaugh, Shapiro argued, was the “D.C. insider pick” and was being pushed hard by former members of the Bush administration. To ideological conservatives such as Shapiro, George W. Bush’s endorsement was a red flag.
Kavanaugh is not a legal scholar on par with Antonin Scalia or Neil Gorsuch. He is, to be blunt, a political animal who thrived within the George W. Bush administration’s neoconservative project. He’s a entitled hack — pretty much what one should expect from a Georgetown Prep School grad.
More distressing to ideological conservatives however was Kavanaugh’s 2011 D.C. Circuit ruling that some legal experts say established the legal roadmap to save Obamacare. That ruling and his connection to the George W. Bush administration offer evidence Kavanaugh would be another Justice John Roberts — which is why social conservatives may not be that upset when Kavanaugh is ultimately borked by the Senate.
In contrast, Barrett would be the first female originalist on the Supreme Court, cut from the same legal cloth as Justices Scalia and Alito.
“I tend to agree with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution and that is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks is clearly in conflict with it,” Barrett wrote in 2013 regarding whether the landmark Supreme Court abortion ruling Roe v. Wade should be overturned.
Barrett’s ascension to the Supreme Court would be a landmark appointment by any historical standard.
So what happened?
According to White House sources, Barrett’s interview with Trump didn’t go well.
One rumor spread on social media that Barrett was uncomfortable around Trump. Another rumor said Trump thought her voice was ‘too high’ and ‘mousy’ and would not resonate well in a Senate confirmation hearing.
More substantively, White House insiders said the president feared Barrett would face a more divisive confirmation hearing than Kavanaugh due to her devout Catholic beliefs, particularly her strident view on abortion and her membership in a prayer group called the “People of Praise,” a charismatic “covenant community” first formed during the height of the 1960s social revolution.
While Trump’s own statements on abortion rights oscillates between incoherent to just to the right of Opus Dei, he assumed Barrett’s well-documented opposition to Roe v. Wade would turn generally pro-choice Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski against her Senate confirmation.
But, apparently, what also set Trump against Barrett was her non-Ivy League pedigree. Barrett is an alumnus of Rhodes College and Notre Dame Law School, but Trump is said to believe the Supreme Court should be the domain of Ivy League-trained jurists.
Is it inconsistent for a self-proclaimed anti-political-establishment president to still believe an Ivy League degree represents a basic qualification for the Supreme Court? Or for any other high-ranking government appointment for that matter? Not if you are Donald Trump.
Showing little depth of knowledge on just about every major legal and public policy subject he’s faced as president, it should not surprise anyone that Trump has preferred to bring in Ivy Leaguers for his administration, often with disappointing and sometimes disastrous results (Rob Porter, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Steve Mnuchin, Jared Kushner, and Ben Carson).
It must be frustrating to pro-life Americans that Trump’s incurable elitism and inability to understand the #MeToo movement that may well save Roe v. Wade from being overturned by the Supreme Court.